UN nuclear watchdog strikes deal with Iran

Pact cushions blow of slashed access, keeps 'necessary' monitoring for up to 3 months


VIENNA • The United Nations nuclear watchdog said it had struck a deal with Iran to cushion the blow of steps Teheran plans to take this week that include ending snap inspections, with both sides agreeing to keep "necessary" monitoring for up to three months.

The announcement by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi on Sunday, made after a weekend trip to Iran, confirmed that Teheran would go ahead with its plan to slash cooperation with the agency today.

Iran has been gradually breaching terms of a 2015 nuclear pact with world powers since the United States, under former president Donald Trump, withdrew in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.

The pact aims to keep Iran at arm's length from being able to make nuclear arms.

US President Joe Biden has said he wants to talk about both nations returning to the accord, though the two sides have been at odds about who makes the first step.

Teheran over the weekend renewed its demand that the US rejoin the accord and lift its crippling sanctions on Iran before talks can resume.

A key part of Iran's plan for reducing cooperation is to end implementation of the additional protocol, under which Teheran allows the IAEA to carry out unannounced inspections of nuclear material and installations where undeclared activity is suspected.

"The additional protocol, much to my regret, is going to be suspended," Mr Grossi said.

While the IAEA can still enter Iran to account for declared nuclear stockpiles, oversight of places such as machine shops and mines involved in uranium enrichment will be lost, as will camera surveillance of Iranian nuclear sites.

The IAEA and Teheran earlier issued a joint statement saying Iran would continue implementing the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, its core obligations to the agency that allow for monitoring of its declared nuclear facilities.

The IAEA will also continue "necessary verification and monitoring activities for up to three months", the statement said, without specifying what those activities are.

Mr Grossi said the steps that Iran plans to take this week would be "to a certain extent mitigated" by the terms of this new, temporary deal.

"What we agreed is something that is... useful to bridge this gap that we are having... But for a stable, sustainable situation, there will have to be a political negotiation," Mr Grossi said, suggesting that this created a window for talks on salvaging the nuclear deal.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said "the script has been flipped" because Mr Biden has already offered to re-engage with the Islamic Republic.

"It is Iran that is isolated diplomatically now, not the United States, and the ball is in their court," Mr Sullivan said on Sunday, adding that Mr Biden's offer to talk with Teheran about how it can return to full compliance with the nuclear accord "still stands".

He said both sides are in contact on the release of US citizens detained by Iran, a dispute that will be critical to resolving broader mutual hostility. Officials also said on Sunday that the two governments have been in indirect contact since Mr Biden took office a month ago.

Earlier on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif reiterated that any talks with the US "will not be about changing the terms of the agreement, regional issues or missile issues". The negotiations would also have to address a guarantee that the US will not quit the deal a second time, he added.

The 2015 deal between Iran, the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany locked in restrictions on the Iranian nuclear programme, notably uranium enrichment, in exchange for sanctions relief. Iran has always said its nuclear programme is entirely civilian.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2021, with the headline 'UN nuclear watchdog strikes deal with Iran'. Subscribe